Sand Dunes seeks new designation

ALAMOSA- The Great Sand Dunes National Park is looking to add a new dimension to the preservation of its resources. How? The answer is simple. By working to reduce the type of pollution that is the easiest of all to reduce: light pollution.

The park management has announced that they are seeking to obtain a Dark Sky Park designation through the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). The goal of the program is to preserve landscapes that have an “exceptional” quality of stars and nocturnal environment as well as the promotion of the stewardship of the night sky according to the IDA website. The reduction of light pollution not only helps to preserve the quality of night skies; there are also benefits for the surrounding ecosystem by helping to maintain natural light patterns, along with the reduction of energy waste.

The Great Sand Dunes is currently in the middle of the nomination process that is required for the designation. There are three steps in this process. The first is the park doing an internal evaluation and taking necessary steps to reduce its own light pollution. The second is the park working to educate the public on the importance of night skies. The final step is evaluating the night sky, and measuring the actual amount of darkness that there is in the area through the use of a metering system that the National Park Service already has in place.   

This initiative has received support from the local community, as the location is seemingly an ideal choice for the program. A request was made for a letter in support of the nomination of the Great Sand Dunes to the Alamosa Marketing and Tourism Board. The request was brought to the board by Fred Bunch, Chief of Resource Management at the park. The board voted unanimously to grant the request and draft a letter with an abstention from Bunch as he is a member of the board.

Bunch noted that this initiative is an opportunity to highlight the importance of night skies since they are a piece that adds to the natural beauty of the park. He said that there is an “expectation” of sorts for the nocturnal environment at the Sand Dunes since it is wilderness. Bunch also noted that obtaining this designation would be a way to ensure that visitors and locals alike can experience views of the night sky that are not available in most areas today.

Overall, it would seem there is growing support for what is seen as another avenue to protect a natural resource. It is a possible way to keep the sky that the San Luis Valley knows and loves visible.

The International Dark-Sky Association is a program based in Tucson, Arizona that was founded in 2001. Since that time, the program has garnered attention and participation from parks and preserves around the world. Numerous National Parks across the U.S. have already received this designation including Grand Canyon National Park. Other parks as far away as Australia, Spain, Germany, Wales and South Korea have also been the recipients of a Dark Sky Park designation. There are currently around 67 parks that have been admitted into the program with the most recent addition to the list being the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The number of parks that are now participating in this movement is continuing to increase as the program seems to be gaining momentum across the globe.

If this measure goes through, the sky over the Great Sand Dunes will be added to the list and the skies over the park will continue to be bright and clear.

Captions: Blue dunes/Photos courtesy of Sally Harmon

Milky Way over Mosca Pass